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French relative pronouns - qui, que, qu'

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Relative pronouns (French: les pronoms relatifs) in general aim to replace a noun antecendt, but are also used to introduce a new clause which gives information about the antecedent. 

In the French language we differ between:

  • The relative pronouns qui, que, qu'
  • The relative pronoun auquel
  • The relative pronoun dont
  • The relative pronoun lequel
  • The relative pronouns ce qui, ce que, ce dont, quoi

The relative pronouns qui, que, qu'

Qui functions as the subject of the clause and can refer to either a person or a thing. In general it can be translated with who, which or that. However qui can also be used in proverbs to replace celui qui as well as in certain obsolete idiomatic expression.

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Examples:

  • La femme qui parle est ma mère. (The woman who is speaking is my mother.)
  • Le livre qui est sur la table est bon. (The book which is on the table is good.)
  • Rira bien qui rira le dernier. (He who laughs last laughs best.)

Que is utilized as the direct object of a clause and can also refer to persons or things.
It can be translated with whom, which or that and in some cases also is used to replace où after certain expressions of time.

enlightenedPay attention when you have to use que in front of a vowel because in this case it has to be transformed to qu'.

Examples:

  • Le garçon que nous avons vu hier est mon frère. (The boy whom we saw yesterday is my brother.)
  • Les livres qu'elle écrit sont intéressants. (The books she writes are interesting.)
  • L'année que je reviendrai. (The year when I will return.)

The relative pronoun auquel

Auquel is used when the antecedent is a thing. In most cases it can be translated with which.
Furthermore it's utilized when the prepositions à and lequel are preceded. Below you find an  overview about the different forms of auquel.

 masculinefeminine
Singularauquelà laquelle
Pluralauxquelsauxquelles

Examples:

  • Le concert auquel il a assisté a été bon. (The concert which he attended was good.)
  • Les villes auxquelles nous allons sont intéressantes. (The cities where we are going are interesting.)
  • L'école à laquelle elle va est vieille. (The school where (to which) she goes is old.)

The relative pronoun dont

Dont is used to refer to persons or things and can be translated with whose, of (about) which, of (about) whom.
This pronoun can only be used when it immediately follows the noun to which it refers. If the noun is followed by a prepositional phrase, de plus lequel has to be used.

enlightenedNote that the relative pronoun dont cannot be followed by a possessive adjective. 

Examples:

  • La femme dont nous parlons est Lia Dupont. (The woman about whom we are speaking is Lia Dupont.)
  • Je connais une fille dont la mère est médicin. (I know a girl whose mother is a doctor.)
  • Voilà un tableau dont j'admire la beauté. (There is a painting whose beauty I admire.)

The relative pronoun lequel

Lequel is used after a preposition and usually refers to things or persons. It can be translated with which and has to agree with the antecedent. Especially after parmi and entre the forms of lequel are obligatory to use if you are referring to persons. 

 masculinefeminine
Singularlequellaquelle
Plurallesquelslesquelles

Examples:

  • La maison dans laquelle Pierre habite est grande. (The house in which Peter lives is big.)
  • Les gens parmi lesquels il vit sont gentils. (The people among whom he lives are nice.)
  • Le restaurant devant lequel j'ai attendu mon ami est merveilleux. (The restaurant in front of which I waited for my friend is marvelous.)

The relative pronouns ce qui, ce que, ce dont, quoi

Ce qui in general is used as the subject of the clause when there is no antecedent. It can be translated with what or that which

Examples:

  • Comprenez-vous ce qui se passe? (Do you understand what is happening?)
  • Ce qui est arrivé est presque impossible. (What happened is almost impossible.)
  • Je m'intéresse beaucoup à ce qu'il a écrit. (I'm interested in what he wrote.)

Ce que in comparison to ce qui, is used as the object of a verb in a relative clause when there is no antecedent. It also can be translated with what or that which.

Examples:

  • Je ne comprends pas ce que vous dites. (I don't understand what you are saying.)
  • Ce qu'il écrit est difficile à comprendre. (What he writes is difficult to understand.)
  • Ce que j'aime, c'est l'aventure. (What I love is adventure.)

Ce dont can be translated with what or that and is generally used before expressions that require the preposition de.

Examples:

  • Il sait ce dont vous avez besoin. (He knows what you need.)
  • Je sais ce dont il est capable. (I know what he's capable of.)
  • C'est ce dont j'ai peur. (That's what I'm afraid of.)

Quoi is used after prepositions and has no antecedent. It can also be translated with what or that

Examples:

  • Je sais de quoi il s'agit. (I know what it is about.)
  • Je sais à quoi vous avez pensé. (I know what you thought about.)
  • Je sais sur quoi il écrit. (I know what he is writing about.)

Exercises

  1. Fill in the blank exercise about the relative pronoun dont, qui, que, qu'
  2. Fill in the blank exercise about the relative pronouns lequel
  3. Fill in the blank exercise about the relative pronouns ce dont, quoi, ce qui, ce que
  4. Quiz about the relative pronouns - auquel

Fill in the blank exercise about the relative pronoun dont, qui, que, qu'


Fill in the blank exercise about the relative pronouns lequel


Fill in the blank exercise about the relative pronouns ce dont, quoi, ce qui, ce que


Quiz about the relative pronouns - auquel


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